Behind the Numbers: What We Learned About Daniel Jones' Struggles vs. Minnesota

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Pflum

New York Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones struggled against the Minnesota Vikings defense. That much we can tell just from watching Sunday’s game. And that really shouldn’t be a surprise, as the Giants have a beat-up offense and Minnesota fields one of the best and most complete defenses in the NFL.

As statistics get to be more and more popular, and important, in analyzing football, we get more numbers and analytics thrown at us.

There are a variety of services and sites which are more than happy to provide an alphabet soup of advanced metrics and a bevy of spreadsheets full of numbers about every game played on an NFL field.

And many of these are certainly both interesting and useful, it can get difficult to tell which stats are useful and it’s all too easy to get lost in the weeds.

I want to take this opportunity to focus on some basic and advanced stats that might help explain how, why, and how much Jones struggled against the Vikings.

We’ll start with Jones’ box score stats, which weren’t pretty. Jones completed 21 of 38 attempts for 182 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. That breaks down to 55.3 percent completion, 4.8 yards per attempt, and a passer rating of 65.9.

However, those numbers don’t actually tell us as much as you think.

Passer rating is notoriously vague and arbitrary when it comes to describing how a quarterback performs.

Stats like ESPN’s QBR and ANY/A (Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt) take context into account, adjusting for things like sacks and interceptions, and are generally much better indicators of how a quarterback performed.

QBR is normalized to a scale of 0 to 100 and generally correlates to how likely a team is to win with the play of their quarterback.

This week Jones graded out with a raw QBR of 31.7, which became a 35.0 when adjusted for facing the Vikings’ defense. Jones’ ANY/A (which adjusts yards per attempt to account for sacks and interceptions) of 2.9 was 29th among all players to throw a pass in Week 5.

That just confirms what our eyes told us: Sunday was not a good day for the rookie, not by any measure.

But why did Jones struggle? Did he have a bad day, or was it something the Vikings did on defense which confounded Jones?

Here is where NFL NextGen Stats proves useful.

I looked at two numbers: Jones’ completion percentage and his expected completion percentage, as per NextGen Stats.

According to the service’s projections, Jones was expected to complete 58.2 percent of his passes based on situation and receivers’ separation from defenders as measured by GPS.

Considering we know that the Giants offense is designed to maximize separation and create high completion percentages on safe plays and that an average expected completion percentage for an NFL passer is around 65 percent, we can safely conclude that Minnesota did a great job of defending the Giants’ passing game.

We should also note that Jones’ actual completion percentage was 55.3, suggesting some combination of poorer than expected play on behalf of the quarterback and receivers.

Judging by Jones’ 4.8 yards per attempt, the Giants retreated into their shell offensively--as they have proven prone to doing at times-- and were simply trying to dink-and-dunk their way down the field.

Taking a look at the GPS data, that’s not exactly true.

Jones indeed averaged just 4.6 air yards per completion, so the overwhelming majority of his completions were close to the line of scrimmage.

And it’s also true that Jones completed just four passes beyond 10 yards downfield. However, his average pass was intended to travel 10.4 yards downfield and 1.8 yards past the first down marker.

In fact, 14 of Jones’ 38 passes (or more than one in three attempts) were targeted beyond 10 yards downfield.

The Vikings’ secondary, however, just wasn’t having any of it.

So far, we have seen a trend in Jones’ accuracy and placement becoming inconsistent when throwing deep, and that held in Week 5 with Jones completing just 10 of 24 passes thrown to the left or right thirds of the field beyond the line of scrimmage.

We saw some accurate and well-placed passes down the field, such as the ball thrown on Darius Slayton’s touchdown. Still, we also saw Jones overthrow Sterling Shepard in the endzone as well as having several passes that were thrown along the sideline drift out of bounds.

But of course, the Vikings’ secondary had their say in things as well.

The final piece of the puzzle is the number “31.6”--that is NextGen Stats’ “aggressiveness percentage,” or the rate at which a quarterback is throwing to a receiver with at least one defender within one yard of them.

In other words, 31.6 percent of Jones’ passes ( 12 of 38 passes) was thrown into traffic. That was the highest rate of any quarterback this weekend by nearly 5 points and the fourth-highest rate this season.

Even though the Giants were trying to scheme their receivers open, the Vikings were sticking close to them and forcing passing windows shut.

Per NextGen Stats, the Giants’ most targeted tight ends and wide receivers averaged just 2.55 yards of separation on Sunday, well below the NFL average of 2.83 yards.

So then, did Jones and the Giants’ offense run into a purple wall in the Vikings’ defense, or did the rookie quarterback have a “rookie game”?

The numbers, as well as our eye test, seem to agree that the answer is while Jones did not have a good game, the Vikings’ defense contributed to his struggles.

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